Archive for September, 2013

Boldy Go…or Go Home…

Posted: September 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

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On Tuesday, September 10, JJ Abrams’ follow up to his 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness, was released on DVD and Blu-Ray. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. There seems to be a commonly accepted line between whether you’re a Star Trek fan or a Star Wars fan. Apparently you can’t be both. It’s like living in Chicago and being a fan of the White Sox or the Cubs. Pick one. You can’t have it both ways. Personally, I never adhered to this line of thinking. I like both because they tell different stories. Where Star Wars is an adventure franchise telling familiar mythology in a space setting, Star Trek is about humanity as a people exploring space and encountering new cultures….with some fairly epic space battle shenanigans tossed in there from time to time.

It’s true that if asked which one I like more I’d have to go with Star Wars. Despite everything that happened in the prequels it still holds less disappointment on the whole. There’s a lot of boredom to be endured with the various Star Trek TV series and even a few movies. With less in the mix, George Lucas’ space opera tended to be more entertaining. That said, and speaking as a Star Trek fan, I think Abrams did a great job with the reboot by preserving certain elements that make Star Trek what it is as well as adding a much broader scope of action and adventure for the casual movie goer just looking to have a great time for a couple of hours. And I don’t agree with the recent poll that Into Darkness was the worst Trek movie ever. I mean, like any other movie, yes…it had it’s problems (and I’ll get into some of them further down when I reach my main point) but it was fun. It was entertaining, emotional and clever. Abrams point was to appeal to average, non-Trek fan movie goer but it still held the true Trek fan in high esteem. It essentially covered all of the bases.

Now, it should be pointed out that I like ALL of the Trek movies. Even the so-called “bad ones.” Maybe my opinion doesn’t mean much on the matter because I actually think my least favorite was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (aka Save The Whales). This may come as a surprise because many consider it to be one of the best but to me a Star Trek movie should take place in 24th Century outer space. Not 1980s San Francisco. I also feel like Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier get a bad rap. Especially the latter. I’ve heard it argued that it was silly to have them searching for God…but why not? Is it really so far fetched of an idea? And you even got what was probably William Shatner’s best performance of the whole franchise out of that film.

Returning to the crux of the matter, though, despite enjoying both of Abrams’ forays into the newly rebooted Trek universe I do find a certain disconnect from what came before. I have nothing against reboots and remakes. If it’s warranted then by all means knock yourself out. You may have seen my previous blog in response to the recently released trailer to the Robocop remake, in which I discussed my views on remakes. They are fine. They aren’t always necessary or better than the original but on the whole they are okay. The problem I have with the reboot of Trek is that it’s not really a reboot. Abrams included a specific detail that, although sounding good at the time I’m sure, actually destroyed the reboot aspect. He tied it into original continuity by having Leonard Nemoy reprise the role of Spock in a time travel angle. With that it’s suddenly not a reboot. It’s a new timeline in the canon universe but now everything is inexplicably different. And I’m not referring to the alternate timeline events that resulted from [SPOILER ALERT] George Kirk being killed when the Romulan Nero time traveled and destroyed his ship in the 2009 film. I’m talking about the Romulans looking different. The radical re-design of the Enterprise and the new look of the Klingons. “Beaming” and warp speed have new, original special effects. These are all well and good as a reboot. Hell, they’re even encouraged. But if you’re dealing with a time travel storyline in original canon then these are things that shouldn’t be changed.

THE FOLLOWING SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR INTO DARKNESS. If you haven’t seen it yet you might want to skip down to the section where I say “[END SPOILERS].”

Star Trek Into Darkness features the crew of the Enterprise tracking down a terrorist named John Harrison who turns out to be Khan Noonien Singh, a villain quite popular from the original series and the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, played by English actor Benedict Cumberbach (who did an absolutely amazing job, by the way). All of that is all well and good if you’re just dealing with a straight reboot. However, in the original series, Khan (played by Ricardo Montalban) was a genetically engineered superior being of Indian ancestry from the 21st Century. In Into Darkness he’s the same thing except that he’s British. Now, having originated from the 21st Century, his nationality would not have been altered by the death of George Kirk.

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Also in the original series (season 2 episode Space Seed to be exact), John Harrison was an Enterprise crewman. Not a fictional identity bestowed upon Khan or anyone else. Sure, one could argue that somehow George Kirk’s death stopped Mr. Harrison from being born but what are the odds that someone would then use that name as a false identity for Khan. My chances of winning the Spanish National Lottery and inheriting the fortune of my dead Nigerian Prince cousin are far more likely, I’d say. So with Into Darkness the lines between reboot and canon get increasingly blurred and the weave really starts to fall apart. But again that doesn’t stop the movie from still being loads of fun. I just can’t seem to grasp a solid hold of it being a true Star Trek film.

[END SPOILERS]

It’s not just the plot holes and inconsistencies of trying to have both a reboot within a canon universe, either. I think the biggest part of why the new films don’t feel 100% like true Star Trek to me stems into a rather important realm of the reboot angle. The cast is different. Again, going back to the idea that reboots and remakes are fine, a new cast isn’t that big of a deal. However, also returning to the idea that these films are both a reboot and canon, new actors filling in these iconic roles becomes a small issue. Many people may not think so and that’s fine. These are just my humble opinions. Imagine though, if you will, that when Star Wars: Episode VII goes into production (and this is all hypothetical) it is decided that Harrison Ford didn’t want to reprise the role of Han Solo. Or maybe the filmmakers decide they want to go in a different, unexpected direction where those characters aren’t quite as old so they recast Josh Brolin as Han Solo. Again…this is hypothetical. I can’t stress that enough. I’m just making a point. Nobody would accept Brolin as Han Solo. Sure, they’d still go see the film and it would make over $1 Billion globally. But there’d be a lot of griping and the whole thing just wouldn’t feel right because we’ve spent the last 30 years associating the role of Han Solo with Harrison Ford. Ultimately that’s how I feel with the new Star Trek. They are fun movies and they couldn’t have got better people to fill the roles. They really couldn’t have. But the real Captain James T. Kirk will forever be William Shatner. The real Mr. Spock will always be Leonard Nimoy. And no matter how much he looks the part, Karl Urban just can’t beat our DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy. When the same people play a part for almost 40 years it’s hard to watch new people step in. And if it had just be an honest remake it would be easier to swallow. But when you throw time travel in you’re forced to accept something rather than do it willingly. It breaks the illusion. It shows you the strings.

I like the new Star Trek movies. They are entertaining and JJ Abrams is a great filmmaker. I guess I just kind of wish he had truly gone where no man had gone before instead of trying to bridge two separate universes together with a lot of the same storytelling.

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The trailer for the remake of the sci-fi classic Robocop has hit the interwebz and the response seems to be, surprisingly, mostly positive. Now I’m not one to bash a remake. There are those people out there who love an original film so much that when a remake is proposed it’s like a slight against the Lord and a bitch slap to the face of their 80 year old grandmother or something. People rage uncontrollably when it’s announced that a remake is coming out. Especially now that we have the internet at our disposal to make said rage public.

(scans room with eyes)

To quote Ben Affleck performing a line written by Kevin Smith, “the internet has given the people a voice. And the people have chosen to use that voice to bitch about movies.” Case in point, the recent outcry over the aforementioned Affleck being cast as Batman and the similar fan distaste over the casting for the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. So when it was announced some time ago that there was going to be remake of Robocop it goes without saying that there were some rumblings on the web. Especially when the first set photo of the revised costume design was released.

Again, I’m not one to judge something by whether or not it’s a remake. There have been a number of remakes that I thoroughly enjoyed. In some, albeit rare, cases I enjoyed them more than their respective original. As much as I love John Carpenter’s Halloween for what it established for the genre, it has an incredible number of production and story flaws that don’t hold up over time. For that reason I think Rob Zombie’s version is a technically better film because it was higher quality and maintained it’s honest appreciation for the source material. Though it does lack some of the more ominously terrifying scenes and themes that made Carpenter’s version resonate with so many. Similarly the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are quality films in that they were well made and didn’t hide the fact that they owed a lot to their predecessors. One of the rare instances where I think the remake was actually better than any of the versions that came before it (and I know I’m a minority in this thought) was the remake of Friday the 13th. I consider that 2009 remake to be better in that it took everything that made the original franchise so intriguing (by which I mean the straight forward and unapologetic usage of graphic slasher violence and nudity) and made it less campy and more grounded with realism. It was a scenario that you could almost actually see happen vs most of the events in the original series.

Then you have your remakes like the 2012 version of Total Recall starring Colin Farrel, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston. The original film, of course starring Arnold Schwarzenegger doing what he does best (kick ass and follow it up with a catchy one-liner), is a masterpiece of science fiction/action. Like most movies directed by Paul Verhoeven it was just as much a satire of certain topics and current events of the time as it was a science fiction adventure film. It also played with your mind and the perception of what was and wasn’t real the entire time. The 2012 version…well…it was definitely a movie…

I can’t say that I disliked the 2012 remake of Total Recall (directed by Len Wiseman). That would, in all honesty, be a bold faced lie. It was entertaining. To that end it served it’s purpose. But I also finished it not thinking much else or having a desire to go back and watch it again. Be it for further enjoyment or an examination of the underlying themes. A good movie –  bold movie if you will – doesn’t just shut your brain off with flashy imagery for two hours. It makes you think. It stimulates your senses on more than just the visual level. And maybe you walk away from it with a new perspective on something. However, the remake was nothing more than a generic, special effects induced, action spectacle. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Again…it was fun. I was entertained. And there was more than one surprising throwback to the original that I enjoyed catching. However, unlike the original, I have no desire to watch it again.

By now you might be asking what any of this has to do with the trailer for Robocop. Well, as a matter of fact, Total Recall is a very good segue because that movie as well as the remake of Robocop (both coincidentally based on Paul Verhoeven movies) look to be the same exact thing. Which is nothing more than a lifeless visual spectacle void of anything that makes you return for a second, third or twentieth viewing. The original Robocop wasn’t just an action flick about a dead cop turned machine. That was just the surface. The icing of the cake the drew you in. It was actually a humorous satire of consumerism, Corporate America and Reaganomics as well as, on a more serious and deeper level, the struggle for a man to remember who he is and why he does what he does. If your thinking to yourself right now that that doesn’t sound like the Robocop you remember then you didn’t watch it correctly…or maybe you’re thinking of Robocop 2 or (God forbid) Robocop 3. Go back and watch it again sometime. The constant use of television ads (especially for the aptly named 3000 SUX…go ahead…read that last part as a word). Tell me that isn’t a statement about how we value things. The evil corporation (OCP) buying and controlling the police department. Corporate America. A very common theme in the 80s (and a re-emerging theme today). Robocop was more than an action movie. It made you think about the state that we as a people were in. Crime was everywhere. Innocent people got the worst of it. And higher society only really cared about what they could get for themselves. But it didn’t lecture to you. It didn’t blatantly throw these themes and ideas into your face. It was funny. It made you think about them in way in which you were still entertained. But it also told the story of a man who just wanted to help. Do things right and be the person he needed to be. Not just for the city but for his family. And when that was taken away from him it became the story of how he fought to get it back. It’s a morality tale on so many levels you might not even realize it.

The remake is generic. It’s action. It’s visuals and spectacle. It’s Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton. And (at least based on the trailer that was released yesterday) it’s devoid of all the things that made the original what it was. There’s no humor. There’s no underlying subtext of current events. There’s no narrative about the world and the struggle for the main character to regain his humanity is actually muted by the forced direct involvement of his family. In the original you knew he had a family but you never saw them. They were told he was dead and they left town and moved on. Alex Murphy’s only connection to the world was his partner that he knew for less than a day. He had to fight for his humanity virtually on his own. Now his wife and son are being thrown into the frey so that he can make “conscious decisions.”

And I won’t really even make comments about the suit. It looks awful. A friend of mine earlier today said it reminded him more of an exosuit. And honestly, he’s right. The original Robocop was just a machine. He had Alex Murphy’s brain and face but he was a machine. You even had that cold hearted scene where Bob Morton told them to “lose the arm” making the case that, to them, he was just a product. This whole grafting a suit to the body and keeping his human right hand thing is not even in the same league as the crap they put the original Alex Murphy through.

However, the feedback of the trailer seems to be genuinely positive on the internet front. It took me be surprise how strongly it seems to be resonating. And yeah…it does look entertaining on the action and visual front the same way that Len Wisemean’s Total Recall was. But in the end that’s all it seems to be. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it will come out and I’ll watch it and I’ll be genuinely impressed by what I see. But will I actually pay the ticket price? Well…I have one simple answer to that question…

I’d buy that for a dollar.